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Georgia Spent Over a Million Dollars To Keep From Having To Pay for One Employee’s Gender-Affirming Healthcare Procedure

A cardboard protest sign reading "We are people not your culture war"

Sounds like someone is cutting off their nose to spite their face. At state level!

Transphobia abounds in America. What else is new? Across the country, we’re being used as a political football in some sort of evil culture-war Super Bowl. And we could really use a time-out. A water break? Maybe just pump a little more air into the ball so we can take the kicks a little easier? No? Okay, we’ll just tough it out a little longer I guess. Or forever, at this rate.

As tragic as it all is, I do enjoy a good bit of irony when it arises here and there. And by “enjoy” I mean “am forced to tolerate with the bleary-eyed giddiness that comes from being punched in the face too many times.”

And there’s nothing more ironic than what’s going on in Georgia right now. Except maybe that Republican politician who signed an anti-drag bill only to have photos of him dressed in drag immediately surface on the internet. That was a real doozy.

Give it to me straight doc, what’s going on in Georgia?

On second thought, give it to me gay. Put some sequins on it. I don’t know. Anything to spark joy.

A sheriff’s deputy in Houston County, Georgia named Anna Lange is seeking to get surgery as part of her transition, and local officials aren’t having it. Surprise, surprise. “Back the blue” right? Guess that all fell apart when it meant supporting a trans woman. So instead they’re attempting to rewrite the sheriff department’s health insurance plan, citing that the operation would be “too expensive”.

And they’ve spent over a million dollars to do it.

Listen, if you have the money and the desire, you can buy a really nice vagina in this world. But there is NO VAGINA that will cost you $1,00,000. Most MTF bottom surgeries, at their most expensive, cost around $25,000. A FRACTION of a million dollars. Does this Sheriff’s department know or care? Not at all.

According to reporting from ProPublica, in order to avoid providing such coverage for the department’s 1,500 employees, officials have spent around $1.2 MILLION DOLLARS to get the laws changed. Is it financially worth it? Of course not. One expert speculates that providing such coverage would add 0.1% to the cost of insurance claims. Roughly $10,000 a year.

They have already spent 120 times that amount fighting this, which is equivalent to them having provided this insurance for 120 years. It was a slap in the face, really, to find out how much they had spent,” said Lange, who filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the county. I’d say it’s more than that. It’s a slap in a face, a punch in the throat, a knife in the back, and a decade of chemotherapy. The sounds like a medical bill worth $1.2 million dollars to me.

But for Houston County officials, this isn’t a medical issue, it’s a political issue. They’re simply falling in line with the rest of the leading political party in conservative states. For Republicans, money is no object when it comes to eliminating all sources of gender-affirming care. Over 25 states are considering passing bans on transition-related care for minors, and bills in Oklahoma and Texas are attempting to ban insurance companies from providing gender-affirming care to adults as well.

Only 0.6% of people in America are transgender, yet employers are spending exorbitant sums of money in order to avoid having to pay coverage from a minuscule demographic. ProPublica reports that North Carolina and Arizona have each spent over $1 million in legal fees to fight claims similar to Anna Lange’s. In each of these cases, the states have claimed that their reasons to refuse to provide such coverage are financial, not political.

Fat chance. Budget estimates have shown that the cost of covering trans-related care hardly makes a dent in state finances. When North Carolina briefly provided such coverage in 2017, the total cost amounted to $400,000—0.01% of the state’s $3.3 billion annual health plan budget.

While state governments have the money and time to screw around in court over such matters, Anna Lange does not. The deputy has already lost four years of her life embroiled in this legal battle, which has been subject to a seemingly endless amount of appeals. Lange was awarded $60k for the “emotional and mental anguish” that she suffered, but the payment was postponed after the county appealed the ruling in 2022.

All hope is not lost. The judge overseeing Lange’s case admonished Houston County for deliberately misrepresenting the cost of Lange’s surgery. The county attempted to cite a New York Times article called “How Ben Got His Penis” as an example that the surgery would be too costly to cover. The article is about a different kind of bottom surgery entirely. It refers to a phalloplasty, which is a FTM surgery where surgeons build a patient a functioning penis. It’s the exact opposite of the surgery that Lange is attempting to schedule.

The county had also attempted to stress that trans people would seek out increasingly expensive care should gender-affirming procedures be covered by insurance. The judge called this argument “factually wrong.” He wrote, “it is undisputed that the Health Plan’s third-party administrator generally ‘concluded that utilization of gender-confirming care was low,’” and went on to say that “no other Health Plan members have sought gender confirmation surgery, or even identified as transgender” in the four years that the litigation has been pending.

While this ruling makes it seem like Lange has reason to be optimistic, she remains cautious. This will be the third time that she has tried to schedule a gender-affirming surgery after her last two attempts were squashed by legal woes.  “Until the case is done-done and over with, that’s when I can have some relief,” she said. I certainly hope it will be someday. I’m looking forward to being able to write an article about a transgender victory for once, not just the losses.

(via ProPublica, featured image: Martin Pope/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.